Good news as OECD results shows Ireland’s 15 year-olds are among the best in reading literacy

December 3, 2019

The CEO of the National Adult Literacy Agency, Dr Inez Bailey, has today welcomed the latest OECD PISA results for 15 year olds in Ireland but highlighted the need to continue to support those who showed poor literacy and numeracy skills.

The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an international project that assesses 15 year old students in the areas of reading, mathematics and science.

The key findings of the 2018 assessments include:

  • Ireland ranks 3rdout of 27 EU countries, 4th out of 36 OECD countries, and 8th out of 77 countries involved in PISA 2018 for reading literacy.
  • In Ireland, the difference between schools in student performance in reading literacy is less than half of what it is, on average, across OECD countries.
  • In Maths, students in Ireland are ranked 11th out of 28 EU and 16th among 37 OECD countries.
  • There is a significantly lower proportion of high-performing maths students in Ireland compared to the OECD average.


Need to support lower performing students, especially in maths

“Irish schools, students and parents are to be commended for these latest PISA results which show Irish students are performing ahead of many of countries in reading literacy, and that showed Ireland has a more equitable education system compared to many other countries.”

“We must not however lose sight of those young people who have poor literacy skills as according to these results approximately 11.8% of 15 year olds had below proficiency level 2 which is considered insufficient for adult life. Equally, we’re not doing as well in maths which is worrying as these young people are only two years off adulthood and possibly any further education or training that would develop their literacy and maths skills. Therefore as they grow up their ability to fully contribute to economic, family and community life may be reduced if these skills are not improved. They are also less likely to engage in further education and are more likely to be unemployed,” said Dr Inez Bailey, CEO, NALA.


Keeping skills throughout life – the need for lifelong learning

Despite these great results it appears we are not maintaining our literacy and numeracy skills into adulthood. The OECD Adult Skills Survey shows that 17.9% or about 1 in 6, Irish adults are at or below level 1, the lowest level on a five level literacy scale. 25% or 1 in 4 Irish adults score at or below level 1 for numeracy. At these levels a person may be unable to understand basic written information or maths, like adding up a bill or knowing how much medication to take. Why is this?

“One of the reasons lies in how we think about the skills we learn in school. We imagine they are learnt for life. The reality is that these skills can be developed or lost throughout our lives and the most disadvantaged need to be supported to improve their skills throughout life. While the policies that have improved literacy in schools are paying dividends and should be celebrated, we now need to invest similarly in policies that provide high-quality lifelong learning opportunities and can help to ensure that adults maintain and grow their skills,” said Dr Bailey.

“One step in the right direction is to make lifelong learning opportunities accessible to all. Since adults with the lowest educational attainment are least in evidence in education and training and also receive less employer-sponsored training, we need to invest in flexible, second-chance options to offer people a way out of the low-skills trap.”

“Equally we need to develop links between the world of learning and the world of work. Skills development can be more relevant and effective if the world of learning and the world of work are linked. Learning in the workplace allows young people to develop “hard” skills on modern equipment, and “soft” skills, such as teamwork, communication and negotiation, through real-world experience,” said Dr Bailey.

The National Adult Literacy Agency is an independent charity committed to making sure people with literacy and numeracy difficulties can fully take part in society and have access to learning opportunities that meet their needs.

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